In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
How Technology Is Changing Our Hands by Darian Leader [The Guardian] Doctors predict that our increasing use of computers and mobile phones will permanently alter our hands. What will this mean for the way we touch, feel and communicate? [more inside]
Dictyostelium discoideum - dicty to its friends - has long been recognized as the world's most fascinating slime mold. A (previously) has a good introduction from a decade ago. You might be fascinated by their life cycle, which goes from individual cells, to animal-like slug, to plant-like fruiting body. You might be fascinated by their starvation-prompted altruism, in which most cells give up their lives so that a few can reproduce, and cheaters are punished. You might be fascinated by the way they farm and protect their crops. (Or maybe the farmed bacteria are farming them; it's hard to tell.) Or you might be fascinated by a brand new study about the DNA nets they use to trap and kill pathogens.
Siddhartha Mukherjee's latest New Yorker article "Same but different: How epigenetics can blur the line between nature and nurture" has attracted searing criticism from heavyweight researchers in the field. Mukherjee responds but doesn't retract...
The butthole is one of the finest innovations in the past 540 million years of animal evolution. Why watching comb jellies poop has stunned evolutionary biologists.
Newly discovered plastic-eating bacterium can break down PET - "A team of Japanese researchers, led by Dr Shosuke Yoshida from the Kyoto Institute of Technology, have discovered a new species of bacteria that produces a never-before-seen plastic-eating enzyme... Human-manufactured PET has only been around for around 70 years, suggesting that this trait has evolved only relatively recently." [more inside]
The Plant Food Tree of Life leads you through the major plant foods and their evolutionary relationships. It is a complement to the list view of the same information, in which each link takes you to a related article at the excellent blog, The Botanist in the Kitchen.
An evolutionary burst 540 million years ago filled the seas with an astonishing diversity of animals. The trigger behind that revolution is finally coming into focus , according to the journal Nature. [more inside]
We're the only animals with chins, and no one knows why. "I always get entertaining emails from lay people trying to help me so let me thank you in advance for what I'm about to receive."
Creatures avoiding planks - "After around a thousand generations of training, the agents became half decent at avoiding planks. Please see the final result in this demo." [more inside]
Sure, we may be a little weird compared to our close relatives for not having a baculum (penis bone), and maybe that's the sort of thing you want to explain for whatever reason, but does human penis size and shape need a uniquely human story? Assuming it's correlated to the vagina like it probably is in many other species, then no it doesn't... unless the size and shape of the human vagina has an exceptional story. Does it? We wouldn't know. [more inside]
How do you get both cooperation and promiscuity, a rare combination in a world dominated by selfish genes? The key, it appears - at least in birds - is long life. "Promiscuous cooperative species are exceptionally long lived."
Humans 2.0 - "With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us. Working mostly with mice, researchers have already deployed the tool to correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and the fundamental defect associated with cystic fibrosis. One group has replaced a mutation that causes cataracts; another has destroyed receptors that H.I.V. uses to infiltrate our immune system." [more inside]
Øyvind Thorsby, creator of multiple strangely charming webcomics (previously), has recently begun his fifth series, Trixie Slaughteraxe for President (link is to the first page). Thorsby's comics bear multiple trademarks: distinctively simplistic art, strange creatures with strange adaptations to their environments, creative applications for magical and technologically advanced objects and phenomena, and, of course, complicated farcical situations often involving desperate wacky schemes. A list of his comics (including the new hosting for his first three comics) is inside. Content warning: violence, swearing and sexual themes. [more inside]
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
The Future of (Post)Capitalism - "Paul Mason shows how, from the ashes of the recent financial crisis, we have the chance to create a more socially just and sustainable global economy." (previously; via) [more inside]
Yes, THAT Daily Mail... This is a great article considering it is from the Daily Mail. A comprehensive study may have revealed how the long neck of the giraffe evolved.
From the Neurologica blog: "Creationists are engaged in science denial—denying evolutionary science. The purpose of denial is doubt and confusion, so they don’t have to create and defend a coherent explanation of the origins of life on Earth. They don’t have to provide an explanation for all the available evidence. All they have to do is muddy the waters as much as possible." [more inside]
This Face Changes the Human Story. But How? This is the story of one of the greatest fossil discoveries of the past half century, and of what it might mean for our understanding of human evolution.
Daniel Dennett, known for having previously explained thinking, religion, and consciousness, recently spoke at the Royal Institution where he did a most excellent job of explaining memes [1-hour video].
"Humans as Superorganisms: How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior" by Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan discusses the idea that an individual homo sapiens is only one component of the human superorganism we call a person, focusing on the psychological and psychiatric ramifications thereof. (Paola Bressan previously.)
Recent genetic discoveries are revealing this is a more accurate analogy for human origins than the "branching tree" model. John Hawks discusses the role of connectivity in human evolution in a clip from the new PBS series First Peoples.
Teleotheism and the Purpose of Life - "Please give this sermon a try. I think it has much in it that will be of interest to a wide range of readers: philosophy, cosmology, evolutionary theory, and science fiction, as well as theology. And nothing in it depends on believing in God at all." Abstract: As an enlightened form of atheism, I turn to teleotheism. Teleotheism is the view that God comes at the end, not at the beginning, where I am defining “God” as “the greatest of all things that can come true.” In this view, the quest to discover what are the greatest things that are possible is of the utmost importance. The best of our religious heritage is just such an effort to discover the greatest things that are possible. (via; previously)
Yesterday, Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and his colleagues reported finding a jaw in Ethiopia that belonged to an human relative that lived between 3.3 and 3.5 million years ago. Their article appears today in Nature.
Some Paths to the True Knowledge[*] - "Attention conservation notice: A 5000+ word attempt to provide real ancestors and support for an imaginary ideology I don't actually accept, drawing on fields in which I am in no way an expert. Contains long quotations from even-longer-dead writers, reckless extrapolation from arcane scientific theories, and an unwarranted tone of patiently explaining harsh, basic truths. Altogether, academic in one of the worst senses. Also, spoilers for several of MacLeod's novels, notably but not just The Cassini Division. Written for, and cross-posted to, Crooked Timber's seminar on MacLeod, where I will not be reading the comments."
Scientists say they have reversed a bit of bird evolution in the lab and re-created a dinosaurlike snout in developing chickens.
But sometimes the evolving virus can unlock a response that holds HIV in check. Levy told Brothers he had a drop of luck in his blood. His white blood cells seemed to secrete tiny amounts of a substance that controls HIV. At the time, Brothers was only one of several hundred people, out of tens of millions with HIV, known to control HIV in this way. Levy believes an unidentified protein is responsible, and isolating and harnessing it might allow scientists to produce a revolutionary HIV treatment.
Biologist/blogger PZ Myers provides a nice introduction to evolutionary theory, and explains how classical Darwinism is distorted by proponents of scientific racism and other pseudoscientific movements.
This is my vision of life. A conversation with evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins. (Video and transcript)
"What could you possibly have in common with a mushroom, or a dinosaur, or even a bacterium? More than you might think. In this Lab, you’ll puzzle out the evolutionary relationships linking together a spectacular array of species. Explore the tree of life and get a front row seat to what some have called the greatest show on Earth. That show is evolution." Evolution Lab is a educational game created by the Life on Earth Project and NOVA Labs
Associate Professor Rana Dajani describes why she teaches evolution to Muslim students in Jordan.
“The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme” was written by Harvard biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in 1979. Their critique of their own field of evolutionary biology spilled out of the Ivory Tower onto the pages of general intellectual forums such as the New York Review of Books. I talked by phone with Lewontin on March 2 2015. In his mid-eighties, he is still scientifically active and could recall his collaboration with Gould in detail. Our conversation is highly relevant to the “Just so story” critique that is frequently leveled against Evolutionary Psychology.
The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
I’m occasionally told my life would be easier if I backed off from my relentless efforts to advance evolution education. Maybe so. But to shy away from emphasizing evolutionary biology is to fail as a biology teacher. I continue to teach biology as I do, because biology makes sense only in the light of evolution.
"Grandmother Fish is a book like no other I have seen"
We start with a delightfully drawn Grandmother Fish, who lived a long, long, long, long, long time ago and could wiggle and swim fast and had jaws to chomp with. At once, this is made personally relevant: "Can you wiggle? … Can you chomp?" We proceed by way of Grandmother Reptile, Grandmother Mammal and Grandmother Ape, to Grandmother Human, who lived a long time ago, could walk on two feet and talk and tell stories[more inside]
This Jay Is Evolving in a Very, Very Weird Way. As she gathered more and more data on different populations of the island scrub jays around Santa Cruz Island, Katie Langin, a biologist at Colorado State University, had a revelation: The birds, members of one single species, had split into two varieties in different habitats. Ever since Darwin and his famous finches, biologists have thought that in order for a species to diverge into two new species, the two populations had to be physically isolated. Those finches, for instance, each live on a different Galapagos island, where their special circumstances have resulted in specialized bill shapes. Yet the two varieties of island scrub jay (they haven’t technically speciated—yet) live on the same tiny island. If they wanted to meet each other for a brunch of acorns and/or pine nuts and perhaps later some mating, they could just fly right over. [more inside]
Leafy, verdant Elysia chlorotica (the Eastern Emerald Elysia) is a sea slug with a secret: they photosynthesize. These marauding mollusks slurp up chloroplasts from their favorite algal snack, Vaucheria litorea, incorporating them into their own digestive cells and putting them to work soaking up sunshine (and, incidentally, acquiring a healthy green glow). But how? [more inside]
Troubles in Paradise is a review of the history and arguments of the creationism/intelligent design movement, written by James Downard.
"Philosophy of science is about as useful to science as ornithology is to birds." This is the reported judgment, by the Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, on my lifelong profession.Michael Ruse, noted atheist and philosopher, 'stands up for the philosophy of science.'
Are you interested in plants? The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew aren’t just a tourist attraction -- they also run one of the world's leading botanical research institutes. To show off how important and fascinating modern plant science can be, they've commissioned a series of snazzy short videos to showcase their work. Start with the award-winning Forgotten Home of Coffee (6:00) (based on this worrying Kew study from 2012), then come back for the rest. [more inside]
I don't believe in evolution I believe in Jibbers Crabst. Matt Inman gives the keynote address for BAHFest (previously) West, and explains why Darwin is wrong and why we are all the creation of a fire breathing lobster.
The weird, disturbing, and hilarious things for sale on the Internet's largest black market. Evolution: The not-so-secret place on the Web that sells drugs, uranium and a guide to texting girls
I waited silently for her to explain that the female pelvis is shaped slightly differently from the male’s, with a larger opening for childbearing. That part was the giveaway. The real purpose of the exercise was to make her prove her conjecture with measurements--to translate the theory to practice. I also wanted her to explain why this sexual dimorphism--that is, this sexually determined physical difference--is not nearly so pronounced in nonhuman primates, such as chimpanzees.When teacher Robert S. Root-Bernstein got this answer to his question on how you should distinguish between male and female skeletons, he had to find a way to make her realise her error without disparaging her religion.
She spoke: Males have one fewer pair of ribs than females.
A team of researchers, including University of Edinburgh paleontologist Stephen Brusatte and Swarthmore College Associate Professor of Statistics Steve C. Wang, cataloging 853 skeletal characteristics in 150 dinosaurs and analyzing the rate at which these characters change, and they found that "there was no grand jump between nonbirds and birds in morphospace." In other words, birds didn't suddenly come into existence, but evolved, bit by bit, or characteristic by characteristic. But when birds were finally a thing, they went crazy. "Once it came together fully, it unlocked great evolutionary potential that allowed birds to evolve at a super-charged rate."
"...it’s a world so full of carnal conflicts of interest and deception that only now are biologists getting to grips with all of its ins and outs, including an understanding of why human sex may be about pleasure rather than pain."[via BBC] [more inside]
The 2014 Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, or BAHFest, is a month away. If you're not sure what is in store, you can watch the entire festival (1 hr 32 min), or jump to the winning presentation: Tomer Ullman: The Crying Game (Q&A), or why babies are so annoying and the competitive advantage crying babies likely gave to warriors from times past. "I don't want to get too much into the technical details, so let's not." [more inside]
You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?Dr. Peter Watts is no stranger to MetaFilter. But look past his sardonic nuptials, heartbreaking eulogies, and agonizing run-ins with fascists (and fasciitis) and you'll find one of the most brilliant, compelling, and disquieting science fiction authors at work today. A marine biologist skilled at deep background research, his acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight [full text] -- a cerebral "first contact" tale led by a diverse crew of bleeding-edge post-humans -- is diamond-hard and deeply horrifying, wringing profound existential dread from such abstruse concepts as the Chinese Room, the Philosophical Zombie, Chernoff faces, and the myriad quirks and blind spots that haunt the human mind. But Blindsight's last, shattering insight is not the end of the story -- along with crew/ship/"Firefall" notes, a blackly funny in-universe lecture on resurrecting sociopathic vampirism (PDF - prev.), and a rigorously-cited (and spoiler-laden) reference section, tomorrow will see the release of